What is bisexuality?
Bi or bisexuality is an umbrella term used to describe an emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards more than one gender. Some people might be equally attracted to both men and women, or they may have a preference towards one gender (and this preference may vary over time).
Pansexuality refers to a person whose emotional, romantic and/or sexual orientation towards others is not limited by their sex or gender. Some people consider this to be a more inclusive term, as it goes beyond the gender binary.
Why do we need bi visibility?
Bisexuality is typically invisible as it may be mistaken for a gay, lesbian or straight relationship. Bisexuals struggle to feel accepted as some people try to categorise them into gay or straight, and deny that bisexuality exists. Studies show bisexual people are more likely to remain closeted, consider suicide more, and are more likely to be homeless than their lesbian and gay counterparts (, , , ).
What issues do bi people face?
Bi-erasure is the downplaying of people or characters who are bi so that they are not given the same treatment as straight or gay people. For example there are very few bisexual public figures and role models, and there is a trend of characters in fiction (including LGBT+ films) where bisexual characters may be mentioned in books or by filmmakers off-screen, but when it comes to the actual film, they are sidelined or their bisexuality not mentioned at all (e.g. Love, Simon and Thor: Ragnarok).
Biphobia is the assortment of prejudices faced by bisexual people, such as the belief that bisexuality is synonymous with promiscuity, or that bisexual people are confused, in denial of homosexuality, or just greedy.
Some people consider that a bi partner cheating on them with someone of the opposite sex would be less problematic than if they did the same thing with a same-sex partner – suggesting that bisexuality is not equal to other sexualities. Bi people are being forced to believe that they’re technically gay with gay people, and technically straight with straight people – which is not the case.
What are the reactions to people coming out as bi?
Some negative reactions to bisexuality are actually negative responses to homosexuality, and a catch-all form of same-sex discrimination. Parents may wrongly perceive bisexuality to be a phase/experimentation, and that the end game will be a conventional heterosexual relationship. Many bi people will feel pressured to pursue this, with their relatives treating bisexuality as a lucky close-call with the horror of homosexuality. Meanwhile bi people who are in relationships that appear outwardly heterosexual will be made to feel excluded by close-minded gay people, who wrongly accuse them of retreating into ‘straight privilege’, and may be judged for being part of the lesbian and gay community.
How do we help people to be more accepting of bi people?
If someone states their sexuality, the best thing to do is to accept it at face value. Regardless of your personal understanding of that identity, the person insisting upon it has decided that it’s the identifier that best fits them, and that should be good enough for anyone. Acceptance is the kindest and most decent response, lifting potentially years of anxieties from people who have had to find the courage to make a statement of their sexuality.
Acceptance also happens to be the best path towards more dialogue. Ask questions, engage with that person, get involved and take an interest. Just by doing that you not only stand to make that person feel more comfortable and respected, but you’re even helping to tackle wider bisexual issues within society. Whether it be a conversation with a friend, or a fleeting supporting character in a movie, acknowledgement and appreciation of bisexuality can mean a whole lot to them.
What are some good resources?
- and are a good place to start for someone looking to answer some early questions about bisexuality - also providing insightful content for allies, and suggested reading for some bisexual people.
- The Bisexual Report also offers much insight, some of it rather sensitive, regarding bisexuality in the UK
For someone who is curious and unsure about their identity, I would always encourage reaching out, and being proud of realising your sexual identity. Coming out means not having to hide your feelings, having a personal sense of achievement, and the fact that coming out helps to resolve long-term issues as well, such as visibility, representation, and acknowledgement.
This blog was written with generous help from Josh Scully.